Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Musicians Threaten to Strike

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The musicians of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra voted Monday to authorize a strike should contract talks fail.

The authorization was made after the Musicians' Negotiating Committee said it had received "devastating" contract proposals from company management in the first round of talks.

The strike authorization, while a common tactic in orchestra labor negotiations, nonetheless signaled an increasingly barbed atmosphere to the talks. It came after the orchestra musicians wore union solidarity buttons during Saturday’s matinee, a live HD broadcast.

A Met spokesman said in a statement that negotiations have "only just begun" with the company's 16 labor unions, whose contracts expire on July 31. "Our singular goal is to control our costs in order to secure a sustainable business model that will ensure the Met’s future and the livelihood of its employees," he said.

The orchestra players, represented by Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, declined to specify how much the company is seeking to cut in compensation. Labor costs represent about two-thirds of the budget of the company, which is trying to cut expenses and rebuild its shrunken endowment.

Clarinetist Jessica Phillips Rieske, chairman of the Negotiating Committee, said that salaries must remain at a competitive level in order to attract and retain world-class talent. "We remain hopeful that the negotiations will have a positive outcome," she added.